Preparing for suffering with the help of Job
Job 6 – “When words are like wind”
In “Blue like jazz” Donald Miller wrote that he did not like Jazz because it didn’t resolve. He didn’t like God for the same reason.
Job helps to answer the question: what do you do with the unresolved, and how do you love God when life doesn’t make sense?
Miller argues that he eventually learned to love Jazz when he heard a street saxophonist “playing his heart out”, utterly absorbed in the music. When you love God you learn to live with the unresolved. Job helps us feel the heart of God.
Job is a complex and detailed book. The following four points are intended as an introduction to the long exchange between Job and his three so-called friends.
1. The value of Job
“If I did not have Job! It is impossible to describe all the shades of meaning and how manifold the meaning is that he has for me. I do not read him as one reads another book, with the eyes, but I lay the book, as it were, on my heart and read it with the eyes of the heart… just as the child puts his schoolbook under his pillow to make sure he has not forgotten his lesson when he wakes up in the morning, so I take the book to bed with me at night. Every word by him is food and clothing and healing for my wretched soul. Now a word by him arouses me from my lethargy and awakens new restlessness; now it calms the sterile raging within me, stops the dreadfulness in the mute nausea of my passion. Have you really read Job?” (Soren Kierkegaard in Repetition ).
Kierkegaard encourages a deep absorption into Job in order that we might be immersed in the “melodic line” of the book and find our dependence on a God who knows what he is doing, even in spite of appearances to the contrary.
2. The unhelpful role of his friends
As some have observed, perhaps their most useful contribution was when they wept with their suffering friend and said nothing. Unfortunately, they broke their silence all-too-soon! (2:13). Not everything they said was wrong, in fact, someone once remarked that they spoke “the right words at the wrong time”.
For example, Eliphaz
- 4:7 – do the innocent really suffer? Have you examined your heart?
- 4:17 – you are presumptuous to think that you are “right with God”
- 5:9ff – God is so much greater than you, so don’t question his plans
- 5:17ff – God sends suffering to discipline and correct us
- 5:27 – He is confident that “he has the mind of God” …
- How easy it is for “friends” to presume to know definitively what God intends to teach in this or that circumstance…
3. Job as a model of innocent suffering (6:1ff)
Job’s responses are helpful
- 6:2f – My suffering is very real (“if it could be weighed”)
- 6:4 – but my suffering drives me To him not from him
- 6:8-10 – heaven would be more preferable to suffering on earth (Phil 1:21)
- 6:14-20 – The comment attributed to Teresa of Avila “God, if this is how you treat your friends, have you no wonder you have so few of them?!”
- Job hasn’t gone that far — he finds himself comforted by God’s consistency, but deeply troubled by his so called friends
- Undependable (v15) – like overflowing streams, thawing ice
- And like caravans which have gone of course 9v18ff)
- They are confident that they are going in the right direction, but in fact they are way off track
- V24ff. Look, I’m not saying this because I am unteachable…but your arguments are not convincing (namely that I must have sinned; and that is why I suffer)
- V28ff. You are judging me, but won’t look me in the eye; you believe you know my heart and my integrity
- V30 But, in fact, I am suffering innocently — I have not spoken wickedly not been malicious to anyone. Cf v10 “I have not denied the words of the Holy One”
- Consistently throughout Job, he is held up as a model of one who – though he suffers greatly – he is innocent.
4. Job points us to Christ
1. Jesus denied a simply link between sin and suffering
John 9:1ff – “who sinned that this man is suffering?”
- Jesus’ answer implies
- There is a connection between sin and suffering, but it is not simplistic;
- There is an answer to suffering but that too is not simplistic
2. Jesus taught: We are blessed when we suffer unfairly or unjustly (Mtt 5:10-12)
3. Jesus is the sinless suffering par excellence (1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:13-18) … and unlike Job, his suffering deals with the very problem of sin and suffering
It is sometimes said: “Suffering makes you bitter or better”. The way you react to suffering depends on your prior commitment to trust God in whatever circumstances he brings your way. A deep engagement with Job and his sufferings will help the Christian prepare for the trial, testing and difficulties of life.
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